Saturday, May 16, 2020

The White Converted Barn

                                                                           Not at all as it was.

               I grew up in a rather rural part of the Northeast with severe winters, white Christmases, and Halloweens cold enough that we almost always had to wear a costume that could be worn with a coat over it.  We had a large home that my parents were restoring, in an area where most of the rural homes had been built between 1770 and 1850.  My parents had a lot of interesting friends, some of whom lived locally and others who visited us from New York, or sometimes even from Europe.

                One couple of my parent's friends lived only about a mile from us. The husband worked, and they lived in Manhattan much of the time, and they came out to their home near us, a couple of weekends a month.  At first, they had another neighbor watching their home while they were in the city, but eventually when the original neighbor returned to work full-time, as a lot of women in that era did, my mother agreed to keep an eye on their home.  Later, the arrangement evolved. In exchange for excellent money, at the time, my mother agreed to change the sheets there, and keep the place vacuumed and cleaned, so that when they did arrive, they could simply relax rather than have another house to maintain.  My mother actually enjoyed going there once a week, making a cup of tea while watching their kitchen television, while working at her own pace in someone else's home. When she was finished, she would pick up the check they always left in the same place for her. My British mother had been a high level banking employee in London, but after she married my father, and while her children were young, she was mostly at home. This was a chance to have her own money for birthdays, and for vacations.  During the summers when school was out, from the time when I was about nine, I went with her, as our friends had said I could swim in their pool.

                 My mother had been actually an excellent choice to manage their home in their absence. Just as she was with her own home, she was detail oriented. She noticed everything, and maintained whatever she could as if a realtor were coming tomorrow. While my mother ran the vacuum, and dusted, I played the grand piano in the living room, and then changed to use the kidney shaped pool. Even now,  I remember the house as if I visited yesterday.   It also had the most remarkable guest house, which my mother also occasionally needed to enter and to maintain.

               The main house had been a stone barn that had been converted to a residence, and rested on a large, mostly wooded acreage.  The entrance we used most often, opened to a kitchen to the left, and on the right, to a dining area. To the far right, there was also a door which opened to slate steps that reached to a slate and iron terrace, which overlooked the kidney shaped swimming pool.  In the summers, there were red geraniums in cast iron containers, outside the house and on the terrace. From the inside, beyond the kitchen, there were several steps which led to a cathedral ceilinged living room. There was an exceptional black grand piano, a comfortable leather couch, some coffee tables and art and ceramics on shelves. There was also a fireplace that I don't think they used very often. They had magazine racks with some of the nicest magazines I had seen on design, things to do in New York, etc.  The living room had the widest plank wood floors I believe I have seen anywhere. This was the first house I had seen that had been decorated in an eclectic yet expensive fashion. The owners traveled the world as part of the husband's job, and brought interesting objects home from foreign countries, and then placed them somewhere in their country home. To the right of the living room, there were stairs which led to the basement and to the laundry area. There were also stairs which led up to a landing and more stairs to a bathroom, a master suite and two more bedrooms.   The guest house also had several bedrooms, and a bathroom, though as I child I thought it strange that it did not have a kitchen also.

            My parents house was being restored and was very much in keeping with what I later learned was consistent with the English country style.  However, our friends with the barn style house, kept the house itself consistent with a stone and wooden structure from the 1770s, with some antiques, but they also incorporated quality furnishings and design pieces that were contemporary. I don't know how they did it, but it amounted to what I will call timeless eclectic. Every piece was beautiful, interesting, and belonged where they chose to put it. They also tended to buy the most expensive kitchen appliances. It was the first time I ever saw a Bosch dishwasher. Somehow, their house was always comfortable, yet not fussy.

            Eventually, as I grew, the time came for the husband to retire. They would keep their apartment in Manhattan, but they would spend much more time at their barn home nearby. I was finally able to meet some of their family, including their grandson, who was about my age. They also built a small pool house by the pool.   My mother was no longer needed to care for their home, which by then, was a relief to her, as she wished to spend several months in England visiting family.  We still saw the friends who owned the barn house quite often, especially since they bought a beautiful German Shepherd who often came to visit with us, as soon as they made even a day trip to New York.  They also cleaned out their house a couple of times, and asked if there was anything we wanted. I wanted it all !  Items from their house didn't just remind me of them, but of the serenity and eclectic nature of their property.  I enjoyed their magazines, some French tiles they parted with,  and some other small items.

            As I grew up and went to college early, my father once again took a job where he now traveled around the world. My mother was more available, and spent more time with her friends who had the barn home.

           After college, I left the state, married and bought my first home. I had children, and was focused on my own life and tasks. I know that my parents continued to be close friends with the family who had the barn house.  Eventually, one and then the other of them died.  I was glad that I had kept the small items from their home that they had given us.  I remembered them both fondly.

           As many families did in the years which followed, we tended to buy a home, do some improvements, and then sell about every four years as our family grew.  Although I favored colonials, I still found a way to incorporate the items given to us by the family with the barn home.  The last two homes we have owned have also been on large acreage, and have been homes we built as farm houses.

           Some time ago, I decided to look up the address of the barn house where I had so many happy memories, of both the home, the dog, the pool and of course, the dear people who had lived there.  The house is no longer there as I remember it.  After their passing, it sold to a couple who changed it from the estate it was, to the estate it is now, closer to their own vision.  The estate that was worth about a million when I was a teen, is assessed for several million dollars now.  Sadly, from internet pictures taken the last time it sold, the house I remember exists now, only in my memory.  I had not understood how much this special place had meant to me, and I am sad that it doesn't exist, as in my recollection.

          I suppose elements of it exist in some ways in my own life.  I have similar entrance gates to my farm, as the barn house did.   My home rests on large acreage with a cleared area around the house, but with many trees.  An ash tray,  some tiles from France, and some art pieces from France, all given to us by barn house owners, still rest on shelves in my dining room and living room. The decor of our home was always important to me and as a result I think, two of my five children hold art degrees, and as an offshoot, are exceptional interior designers in their own homes. In summer, the front porch of my farm house has deep red geraniums, for the fragrance, as much as for the appearance. A Thermador stove with a griddle sits in my kitchen. I have to laugh when I realize that like the barn home owners, I too own a second home I don't get to as often as I would like. I have a person who looks after it as carefully as my mother did their home, and I get smart phone pictures of it periodically so that I can see all is well, and when something is changed or maintained.

          I probably don't need to remind you that some of the people, the places and even the homes your children see will shape their choices, their dreams, and their futures, possibly all their lives, just as the barn house has, all of mine.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

An Unexpected Loss


                      I don't usually mention this, but some years ago, when I was in college, I was married.  My first husband and I were married when I had one year remaining of college, and I had attended college early.  We had a simple wedding at a beautiful old white church with red double doors, and then, we enjoyed a dinner with our friends at what is still one of my favorite restaurants, in that particular state. The restaurant and the hotel remain open and quite popular, even today.  The day after the wedding, we looked for an apartment near enough to the college. We had planned that he would work, I would finish school, and then I would work, and then he would complete his own degree. Shortly after the wedding, we found a garden apartment with one bedroom. I still remember the oak floors, the brick construction, the tiled bathroom, the generous closets, and the gas stove and oven.  It was a good rental value, even at that time.  We started with minimal furniture, and didn't gather much more in the time that we lived there. I remember wallpapering a large mural of a life-like forest to one living room wall.

                 In our early twenties, most of us don't know ourselves particularly well, let alone another person.   It didn't take a lot of time before we realized that we were very different people.   He disliked that I couldn't travel when studying for exams, and I didn't understand why he wasn't as practical as I was. He wanted to buy a new car, while I wanted to start saving for a house. He wanted to go out to a restaurant most nights, while I wanted to figure out what I could cook that would be both inexpensive and tasty. I wanted him to complete his degree, and he wanted to continue working.  We were pretty good friends, but we didn't have common goals.

                      It took a few years for us both to realize that although we were good friends and had commonalities, that our goals for the future were not the same, and that marrying had been a mistake. Neither of us found this very easy to admit, and so we saw a wonderful marriage counselor, at first with the objective of making our marriage healthier and stronger, and then eventually with the objective of figuring out how to let it go.

                      When we did decide to divorce, it was challenging. We both wanted an amicable divorce, and thought we could keep it non-adversarial, especially since there was little money between us, and because we both tried to give one another the few furnishings we'd managed to acquire, to that point. We would each keep the cars with which we had come in to the marriage. We hoped to use one attorney who would represent us both. There was no such thing as a "no fault divorce" in that state at the time, and so we were placed in the difficult position of one of us needing to sue the other for something. He eventually allowed me to sue him for abandonment. Of course, that meant that the divorce took a lot of time because he had to meet the statutory definition of abandonment.  By then, I  was making more money, and so I paid for the separation agreement and for the divorce itself.  For the most part, it was amicable. We both believed that we had each made a mistake and that we truly had different goals and objectives.  I remember that we tried hard not to blame one another.

                      In the years which followed, he moved out of state.  I eventually moved also, and married someone whose goals were more in alignment with mine.  I have never really discussed the things which caused us to end my first marriage because more than anything else, I believe you owe the person you are or were married to, silence with particular regard to your difficulties or the other person's shortcomings. I really did hope that he would find someone to whom he was better suited, as I had.   In the years which followed, as my present husband and I raised our family, my first husband and I lost touch. At some point, we stopped sending Christmas cards.   I no longer had his address, and surprisingly, he wasn't active on social media.  In the years in which I raised children, I rarely thought of him.

                       This week I learned that he has died.   I am stunned.  He was too young to have died, and I have no idea what happened.   His parents are dead, and there is no one to ask.  None of my friends still knew him.   I am not grief stricken, but I am shocked. No, I think the word is gobsmacked.   How could someone I was once married to, be dead ?    Death wasn't supposed to happen to either of us for thirty or more years.

                         I don't need to cry, but I am not sure how to move forward, either. All of a sudden the one remaining piece of antique furniture he gave me, and the one antique lamp and rocking chair have become very precious to me.   I didn't mean to divorce him and then never exchange as much as a Christmas card again.  I hoped he would marry again, and although I know he dated a college professor for some years, he never did.  Now, there is no one on Earth but me who knows of those early days in the apartment with our friends from college, and funny friends from the garden apartments. When we could, we went to New York, to museums, and fairly often to Montreal.  Those days weren't a hundred percent bad. They simply should have been a dear friendship, rather than a marriage.  I'm sorry for anything I did, knowingly or unknowingly that hurt him and perhaps made him choose never to marry again. At this moment I can't shake that perhaps I am in part responsible for his not marrying again. I hope the remainder of his life was good.  I am..........sorry.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

When My Books Are Sold Out on Amazon

              It has come to my attention that Amazon is sold out of one of my books, and that they claim that there is a 1-3 month wait on another two of them. If you wish to get any of these books, in softcover versions or electronic ones, you can go to the following sources:

  Title:  "Lawrence DeWolfe Kelsey: The Life of the Explorer

 This book is ALWAYS available at:


                  Title:   " Portsoy Woods"

   is also ALWAYS available at:


                  Title:  "Westward: The Novel"

             is ALWAYS available at:


Thank you !

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Comparisons


    If I were to be honest, I would have to tell you that I stand in awe of how different the Christmases of my youth and teen years are from the family Christmases my own family has today.
When I was a child, we lived in the Northeast, in a rural area, and it was always a white Christmas. Many years it wasn't just a white Christmas, but a Christmas where even a four wheel drive Jeep couldn't make it down the driveway. Sometimes, ice storms would turn the property to grasses and trees seemingly encased in glass. By Christmas, my mother would have been working for several months. First, she would have found a baby sitter so that she could travel fifty miles either alone or with friends to New York City to buy gifts. Sometimes, she would travel to Morristown, in New Jersey to buy things, or sometimes to a store in Morris County called "Two Guys".
             My mother was British, and she worked hard to provide the type of Christmas that she might have had in England, had she been there.  We always had a genuine tree that was as tall as our homes twelve foot ceilings. It was always decorated from head to toe. It also had Christmas crackers on it, sent from England, that when opened with a loud "pop", had a small toy inside. Christmas dinner was always at our home, and featured a huge turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, several desserts.  There were nuts, olives, hors d'oeuvres, and alcoholic drinks for the adults. Our Christmases were spent with my mother's closest friend and her husband, who were also expatriates here in the US. Their children, who were friends of mine, had been born here. We also wore our finest clothing, and looked the very best that we would all year.  At some time during the day, my mother called her relatives in England, and my father carefully timed each call, because in those days, overseas calls cost a fortune.  As much as my mother enjoyed the calls, there was desperation in her voice as she spoke to them, knowing that she might not see them again, or that they may not live until her next visit home, which usually occurred about every four years, in lieu of beach vacations or vacations my friends might have had here to destinations within the US.

           Today, our Christmases are very different. My children grew up in the American South in even a more rural area than the one in which I grew up. We almost never have snow at Christmas here. In fact, in 1989, I didn't need to wear a coat for that entire Winter.  We usually get a couple of snows each year, in January through March. Most of the time we ignore them, as they melt all by themselves. I don't buy the abundance of gifts my mother did. My kids have what they need through the year, and don't really need much.  In the past I have bought something they asked for, either from a catalog or online.  Sometimes, I buy a gift certificate for a shop they love.  We don't dress up quite the way we did when I was a child. We have horses, sheep, alpacas, a large number of dogs, chickens, guineas, and other animals and they too will need attention, exercise, and feeding even on Christmas Day. We all wear slacks or jeans and perhaps a festive shirt.  My mother was an exceptional hostess and cook.  I am really not.  My husband is content to get a large turkey in the oven, and to make the stuffing that was passed down in his family. Because we have one child who is a Type I diabetic from childhood, the excesses of Christmas, gently left our table, one by one over the years.  We have turkey, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, peas, stuffing, and gravy, and often a salad. We serve one dessert which has a sugar free alternative, side by side.  Since all of our English relatives, and both my parents have died, along with our youngest son,  there is no one to call.  The kids gather for Christmas, and we have the meal cleared up and the dishes done within a couple of hours. I don't mind cleaning up, and it goes quickly.  Sometimes we gather and sing, and then our children who are grown and have homes, depart.
          For many years when the kids were small, I worked as a registered nurse. I had to work on Christmas Day and so we celebrated the day after, which I had off. The children were never any the wiser. Even today, we occasionally move Christmas by a day or so, if someone needs to be accommodated.

           If I were to be honest, both types of Christmases are magical, and both are bittersweet,   My mother worked very hard to give everyone a Christmas to remember, and she lived in fear of the day that her children would be grown and her loved ones in England would be gone.  She feared the very Christmases I have now.   My children are grown, and there are two little grandchildren now.  These are not times to dread, but times to celebrate, as I am so proud of the people my children have become.  We no longer have relatives outside our immediate family, but I know that they reside in Heaven and that we will see them again.  We also have wonderful friends who are like family.   Even among the changes in Christmas, there is still joy to be found.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday, November 25, 2019

On Leaving it All

                A bit more than twenty years ago, my children, my husband and I moved out to a profoundly rural area.  When we arrived, there were no restaurants, no pizza, no Chinese food, no internet, and often no police.  We traded suburban life with all of its woes and temporary advantages to one with almost limitless space, where our kids could raise livestock, chase their chickens, truly explore hobbies, hike, and grow up with fewer distractions.

              Our experiment worked.  Our homeschooled kids were academically quite successful, and went on to college, and universities and were successful in the careers they chose. One of our children passed away, the result of a cardiac arrhythmic syndrome which had not been identified, and took his life one morning, this time of year, about eleven years ago.

               In a sense as a tribute to the son who passed, we continued to live here. We needed to provide an excellent home to the animals our son had known.  As if keeping a promise to him, we kept the homestead fairly similar to how it had been during his time here.

               I can't help but notice that in the past few months, four families who were decidedly cornerstones to this area, have placed their homes or farms for sale.  I tell myself that this is natural. Not everyone wishes to age in place. Some return to towns and cities in old age for ease of getting to the doctor or the pharmacy, at least.  And yet, I am saddened to see these families leave. Some of them have been in the area longer than we have. Their departure will make our family the old timers in the area. This means we cannot avoid the realization that we all age, and that eventually, we will either depart from this area, or die here.

              If I were to be honest, I would say that although I dislike the idea of dying in this place, I like the idea of leaving it all by choice even less.  


Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Moment for Tears

I was doing some internet research early this week for a book project on which I am working, and I accidentally came across an obituary with a familiar name. It took me a moment to think of why I remembered the name, and exactly who the person had been. She had been a classmate of mine in high school. Although I don’t think we were ever really friends, we shared a seat in almost all the most challenging classes in our school, when they were still divided into classrooms of high performers, average students, and those benefiting from some remediation. I suppose in the lingo of today, she would have been within my academic cohort.

I graduated from high school one year early to attend college in an era where this was considered sacrilege, but I had my father’s approval. Although I continued contact with about four classmates over the years from my high school class, I didn’t really keep in touch with the others, and I didn’t return to the area. I did hear when several of our class died in separate car crashes and one in a fire, and I grieved them.

I graduated from two colleges and started a career as a registered nurse. The closest I came to hearing from anyone at the high school was during the time I had the school psychologist as a patient. He was a dear man who saw the school quite differently than I had. As my twenties progressed, I married, became the mother of two babies in rapid succession, and moved out of state as I balanced career, parenthood, and a new house.

Over the years, the several careers I have enjoyed had to mesh with the lives of the five children I eventually had. During a more bullish economy, we sold our homes and moved about every five years, being careful to put more money down on each home. I rarely gave thought to high school, although I did stay in touch with close friends from there, and from college. As time progressed, more and more of my friends from high school and college were spread over the country. Many of my college friends became college professors. One became a physician after having been a registered nurse. Some became entrepreneurs. I learned that from my high school class five had become engineers, two had become physicians, one had become a nurse practitioner. One had become an artist. Four became teachers. Eventually, my own high school class blurred a little bit with the students a year older or a year younger who were there at the same time.

This week, when I saw my classmate’s obituary, I remembered that she was a lovely girl. She was bright, always happy, and was very attractive and had thick blonde hair. She was never negative about anything we had to do there. She always tried her best, and she was good at sports, academics, and anything social. I remembered that she was really good in tennis, and that she had the distinction of being an academic standout as well as a varsity cheerleader. I remembered that one of her brothers was in school with us, and that they were always glad to see one another. I remember once thinking while watching her laugh as we played soccer, that blondes must really have more fun.She had flourished in high school where I had scrambled to get away.

While I had been raising children, developing careers, and enjoying friends in another state, my classmate had attended three universities and graduated as an artist. She returned to our home
state, married and had two children. She became a part of the challenging and highly political art world which will chew you up and spit you out faster than any high school will.

Today, my classmate is gone from Earth. She left two children who are doing well. She was divorced before she died, and the obituary gives no clue as to how she passed. I can hardly imagine the young smiling woman I knew divorcing anyone. As I recall, we weren’t really friends and yet I knew her middle name when I saw her obituary. I remembered where she lived, how she looked, her brother and what he planned to study in college. She had been resilient, in a place where I hadn’t been. Perhaps I had not yet been worthy of being her friend. I grieve her life cut short. I grieve the time she will not be spending with her young adult children. She will miss living long enough to see her grandchildren here on Earth.

I think she left something important to me that she doesn’t even know about. She left me the example of always smiling, of doing your level best wherever you are. She always bloomed where she was planted, where I might have whined about the soil. I think she might also have taught me that the people you might see every day, and who might not seem important in your life, might actually be important to you later. I took a moment away from the book I was writing to cry for her. I think you probably lived a pretty good life if a classmate from many years ago thinks of you kindly, and cries at the thought of your passing.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

On Climate Change Shaming


          If I were to be honest, I would tell you that I am sick to death of hearing about climate change. I was raised to conserve everything, pollute as little as possible, to avoid packaging, and to coexist with the animals and the planet, and so when others, particularly from other nations who know nothing about me or how I live, tell me I must change, it's all I can do not to laugh at the wasteful misguided souls who lecture me.

                 I live on a large acreage farm surrounded by woods. I grow a great deal of our own food, our own eggs and our own chickens. We coexist with the animals here which include turkeys, bears, fox, raccoons, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, coyotes, squirrels, and opossum. We leave the farm about once weekly and lump all our trips into one to conserve resources, and because we don't wish to be away too long from our rescue horses, sheep, alpacas, dogs, cats, and all manner of poultry. We are essentially organic here. There is one intervention we allow, and that's rabies immunizations for all the animals who are mammals, because rabies in such rural places in the US is endemic.  I own other farms, and they are managed organically as well.

               I haven't boarded a plane in about seven years. I drive proficiently, but as little as possible. I work hard to impact the planet as little as possible, basically because a lot of the American Indian values made sense to me, and because one of my parents hailed from post war Europe, and the other went to college there for an extended period. They weren't known to waste much either.

                 The fact is that if you build a home below sea level, as in New Orleans or in Bangladesh, that cataclysmic flooding will occur.   If your government steals the aid freely given by other nations and misappropriates a small fraction of the remainder, then starvation will result.  There will be periodic glacial melting, and then reforming of Antarctic glaciers. There will be some degree of climate change as the Earth ages and moves on. There will be cataclysmic disasters. Why? Because there have been before.

                  More than seventy percent of the Earth consists of oceans. Does it really make sense to you that actions of people who reside on less than 30% of the planet are changing the environment ?  I lean more toward the idea that the planet will gradually change. It will heat and it will cool whether we stop driving cars or manufacturing anything at all.   Before you tell me that I am hopelessly out of touch, let me tell you that I hold a degree in Environmental Studies, and I am not yet convinced that anything we do to change the gradual progressions of our planet can do anything at all.

              So I will continue with my low impact activities here on Earth. You continue with your obsession with electronics, addiction to Starbucks, letting social media think for you, and shaming those who don't look, speak or think exactly as you do.  Chances are, we will both live until we both die, and we will do so, on the planet's time.